innovation

Several Ivy League schools, including Columbia, offer opportunities for student entrepreneurship similar to Amy Gutmann's newly announced President's Innovation Prize. | Courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust/Creative Commons

Top American universities are becoming the “Shark Tank” for social entrepreneurs, and Penn is no exception.

Announced last Wednesday, the President’s Innovation Prize will recognize ventures that fulfill three requirements: 1) produce a “positive and important social impact,” 2) commitment to innovation and 3) viability as a long-term commercial venture. Each year, one winner will receive $100,000 in prize money, along with a $50,000 stipend.

This makes the prize among the largest social entrepreneurship awards offered by American colleges. This is how Penn’s latest prize compares to similar awards at other Ivies.

President’s Challenge (Harvard):

Up to $100,000 in grand prizes

10 $5,000 prizes

Established in 2012, the President’s Challenge is held each spring through the Harvard Innovation Lab. In addition to competing for prize money, all challenge participants receive opportunities to consult with Harvard faculty throughout the course of the contest.

Entrants must address one of five pre-determined topic areas. The 2016 topic areas will be education innovation, affordable health, energy and environment, economic development and sustainable employment or food and agriculture.

Unlike Penn’s prize, the money is awarded to multiple people in smaller sums. In the initial round in March, judges award $5,000 seed grants to 10 entries (two from each topic area) that advance to the April final round. In the finals, judges award additional prizes totaling $100,000 to one grand prize winner and three runners-up.

Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education (Yale):

One $25,000 prize

The Thorne Prize focuses on a narrower field of social change than Penn’s Innovation Prize. It is offered every spring by InnovateHealth Yale, a group of Yale faculty, students and program directors who focus on a specific type of social entrepreneurship addressing the health care industry. Both individuals and teams with at least one Yale student can enter the contest.

Entrants submit a proposal addressing a specific problem facing either health care or education. Selected entrants are then invited to present live proposals to an expert panel, which selects the winning venture.

Ventures are judged based on their potential for social impact, innovation, sustainability, team dynamic and how thoroughly they define their product and target population, according to the 2016 Thorne Prize information packet.

Past winners include a proposal to expand health care literacy using cell phones and a team developing necklaces for infants containing vaccination records that can be updated from a smartphone app, Yale School of Public Health Communications Director Michael Greenwood wrote in April.

Global Technology Challenge (Columbia):

Total prizes: $50,000

Sponsored by Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Global Technology Challenge is awarded every spring as part of the Columbia Venture Competition. The challenge is open to all Columbia students and recent alumni, unlike Penn’s, which is open to only current undergraduate students. Entrants choose a problem that represents “global challenges” and pitch a technology-based solution to that problem.

“Those competing in the global challenge [are] more geared at problems such as environmental challenges, health, sustainability and disaster relief,” wrote Columbia Engineering Associate Director of Communications Melanie Farmer in a press release.

The Global Technology Challenge especially encourages entries addressing cross-disciplinary problems. This year’s entries included a suspension system for freight trucks that reduces fuel consumption and an inexpensive system for maintaining infant vital signs in developing countries.

Social Innovation Fellowship (Brown):

15 to 20 $4,000 prizes

Although Brown is less pre-professional than any of its Ivy League siblings, Brown’s Social Innovation Fellowship is one of the most well-regarded social entrepreneurship awards for undergraduates. The program won the Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award in 2014. While Penn’s Innovation Prize stresses a commercial component, Brown’s prize welcomes nonprofits and other social endeavors.

Selected students receive a $4,000 stipend to work on a social venture during the summer — a markedly lower amount than the other prizes. They also receive extensive mentoring and networking help during the spring.

In addition, the Brown fellowship encourages applicants pursuing intrapreneurship (starting ventures within an existing organization). Since its establishment in 2009, the Social Innovation Fellowship has supported 75 students, including 43 intrapreneurs, according to the program’s 2013 Fellowship Impact Report.

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